Post Up: Flying Ahead

Nets 92 (21-28), Knicks 88 (10-40)

The Nets stayed alive in the hunt for the East’s eighth seed as Brook Lopez (22 points, 9 rebounds, 6 blocks) had a huge game off the bench and Jarrett Jack (20 points, 8 assists) came through in the closing moments of the game. After Jason Smith (8 points, 4 rebounds) knocked down a pair of free throws with 1:21 to go in the fourth, both teams had a couple of bad possessions. However, with 13.8 seconds remaining, Jack drained a 3-pointer to turn a one-point game into a two-possession game. As dreadful as Brooklyn has been at times (most times) this season, Jack has been a nice surprise as a starter and closer. Carmelo Anthony (21 points, 7 rebounds) led the Knicks in scoring as they shot 38.2 percent from the field. The reason New York was even in this game was because they only turned the ball over five times, compared to 14 times for the Nets. The Knicks are now the third team in the NBA so far to reach 40 losses (76ers and Timberwolves).

Pacers 103 (19-32), Cavaliers 99 (31-21)

This matchup may not have the same firepower to it as the “Heat-Pacers” rivalry from the previous few seasons, but Indiana’s veterans showed up to play Friday night. George Hill (20 points, 7 assists, 12-15 on free throws) and David West (20 points, 13 rebounds) got the best of LeBron James (25 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists, 7 turnovers) as C.J. Miles (26 points, 4-10 on 3-pointers) joined in on the battle with a big game from deep. The play of the game easily came at the 1:26 mark in the fourth quarter. With Cleveland up 92-91 after an Iman Shumpert (6 points, 3 rebounds) trey, the Pacers needed a huge shot to put them back in front in this back-and-forth contest. Coming off a ball screen, Hill heaved an off-balanced, one-handed deep ball, simply trying to draw contact from Kyrie Irving (29 points, 5 assists). Not only did Hill draw the foul, he drilled the 3-pointer and the free throw to turn his team’s one-point deficit into a three-point lead. The Pacers wouldn’t relinquish the lead the rest of the way as they locked down on defense and made 8-10 from the charity stripe. After all the positive vibes the Cavs were giving off during their recent 12-game winning streak, they didn’t show signs of continuity Friday night. They had 18 assists and 15 turnovers…while the Pacers had 26 assists and only eight turnovers. Even in the loss, J.R. Smith (17 points, 6-14 from the field, 5-12 on 3-pointers) continued to play in an efficient manner. He seems to really be turning his game around in Cleveland.

Magic 103 (16-37), Lakers 97 (13-37) OT

In the Magic’s first game since the firing of former head coach Jacque Vaughn, interim head coach James Borrego started things off with an overtime victory at Amway Center. Their 10-game losing streak came to a close in large part due to Tobias Harris (career-high 34 points, 7 rebounds, 14-18 from the field) having one of the best games of his young career. The forward was making acrobatic layups, pull-up jumpers and even a couple 3-pointers to top it off. He took advantage of a Los Angeles defense with plenty of gaping holes that have been there all season long. The Lakers, who have now taken three of their past four games into overtime, saw Ryan Kelly (20 points, 5 rebounds) take advantage of Jordan Hill’s sidelining, drilling five 3-pointers. Jordan Clarkson (14 points, 6 assists, 4 steals), Carlos Boozer (14 points) and Jeremy Lin (14 points, 6-8 from the field) all had 14 points while Nikola Vucevic (25 points, 13 rebounds, 2 blocks, 2 steals) claimed another monster double-double. The Lakers lost this game during a quick one-minute stretch in overtime. After Wesley Johnson (9 points, 9 rebounds.) made a 3-pointer with 2:59 remaining in overtime, L.A. held a 94-93 lead. The Magic then went on to score on three of their next four possessions and take a 99-94 lead with 1:24 to go. This has been one of the glaring problems for Los Angeles this season—when the team needs to make stops, they simply don’t know how to bring it together and force a missed shot.

Raptors 123 (34-17), Clippers 107 (33-18)

The Raptors entered this game losers of their last two after stringing off six straight wins before that. And about 10 minutes into this game, it seemed like the losing streak would continue for Toronto. Spencer Hawes (9 points) made a 3-pointer at the 2:34 mark in the first quarter to give the Clippers a commanding 30-10 lead. The Toronto crowd was out of this just as much as the Raptors’ offense. However, the next two quarters showed why the Raptors look poised to make some noise in the East playoffs while L.A. seems to be pretenders out West. In the second and third quarter, the Raptors outscored the Clippers in embarrassing fashion, 76-45. It was utter domination by the Drakes as DeMar DeRozan (24 points, 9 rebounds, 8 assists) and Kyle Lowry (21 points, 3-6 on 3-pointers) combined to score 31 of their 45 points in these 24 minutes. Chris Paul (22 points, 9 assists, 6 rebounds, 2 steals) and Blake Griffin (26 points, 9 assists, 6 rebounds) both put up solid numbers, but their team too often looks soft, to be blunt. They get shoved around and thrown off their game very easily, leading to technical fouls and bad losses down the stretch. The Clippers are certainly in the playoff hunt just like the other top teams in the West, but something seems off for Doc Rivers’ squad.

Hawks 124 (42-9), Warriors 116 (39-9)

The matchup of the year. This game featured the best team from each conference facing off in what should have been a nationally-televised game. These two teams have contrasting styles of play, but what they have in common is a willingness to run their coach’s system and play to their teammates’ strengths. It showed in Friday’s contest during a high-scoring, high-intensity battle. The final score makes it seem like there was no defense involved in the 48 minutes of play. However, what really happened was two teams with great chemistry and rhythm ran their offenses in a beautiful manner. For any sort of NBA fan, it was pure entertainment. The Hawks took back the reins as holding the best record in the NBA because of their willingness to share the ball. As powerful and explosive as Stephen Curry (26 points, 9 assists) and Klay Thompson (29 points, 5 assists) can be at a moment’s notice, Atlanta still looks to share the ball just a little bit more. There was a possession early on in the game when Jeff Teague (23 points, 7 assists) had a wide open 3-pointer with a Warriors big man rotating out to cover the shot. Teague easily could have hoisted up a trey. Instead, he dumped it down to a now open Paul Millsap (21 points, 3 steals), who easily laid it in. This might only be one play, but it embodies the Hawks’ willingness to make the simple, right play. This happens so frequently that it becomes contagious for the whole team. There is a reason seven Hawks players scored in double figures compared to only four for the Warriors. The game remained close going into halftime and the final quarter. A major reason it remained tight was because of Draymond Green’s (12 points, 20 rebounds, 6 assists) harassment on the boards. Golden State’s glue guy snatched 10 offensive rebounds and wouldn’t let the Hawks run away with this one. He helped the Warriors outrebound the Hawks 51-38. The turning point, though, came midway through the final quarter when the Hawks used a 12-4 run to take just the second double-digit lead of the game. During that run, three shots were made and three shots were assisted on. Even though the Warriors won the assist battle 31-28, Atlanta still had quicker, cleaner ball movement overall. The Hawks now must go one ranking down in the West standings and play the Grizzlies Sunday.

Celtics 107 (19-30), 76ers 96 (11-40)

The Celtics built up a large 26-point lead, played poorly for a large part of the second half and closed this one out thanks to a big game from Jared Sullinger (22 points, 8 rebounds, 7 assists). After Philly trailed 70-49 midway through the third quarter, this game seemed like a lost cause the rest of the way. However, the Sixers showed some grit as they fought their way back into this game. With no Michael Carter-Williams in the lineup, K.J. McDaniels (15 points) helped lead the charge while Luc Mbah a Moute (18 points, 3-6 on 3-pointers) and Robert Covington (16 points, 6 rebounds, 3-8 on 3-pointers) found their touch from deep. Just like that, the Sixers suddenly only trailed 83-80 after Hollis Thompson (16 points, 8 rebounds, 4-5 on 3-pointers) nailed a trey with 7:37 to go. However, Philly used all that energy to climb back that they had nothing left over the next two minutes when Boston went on an 8-0 run to put this one away. Six Celtics scored in double digits as guards Avery Bradley (18 points) and Marcus Thornton (16 points, 5 rebounds) looked good down the stretch.

Pistons 98 (20-31), Nuggets 88 (19-32)

The final score makes this one seem even closer than it was as the Pistons cruised to pick up their 20th win of the season. Greg Monroe (21 points, career-high 21 rebounds, 2 blocks, 2 steals) scored his team’s first six points of the game and continued putting on the pressure throughout the game. As fun as Jusuf Nurkic (6 points, 13 rebounds) has been for Denver, his team rarely applies any pressure in the interior. Kenneth Faried (10 points, 6 rebounds) hasn’t been himself all year while Darrell Arthur (10 points, 0 rebounds) and J.J. Hickson (6 points, 5 rebounds) have never been known for their defense. Andre Drummond (13 points, 13 rebounds, 2 blocks) took advantage in notching another double-double. Monroe and Drummond are the only two teammates in the League averaging double-doubles. Jodie Meeks (18 points) scored all eight of his field goals inside the 3-point line. Detroit held a double-digit lead at halftime and eventually led by 22 before garbage time began and the game became closer. The Nuggets continue to spiral down the Western Conference standings as they have lost five in a row.

Rockets 117 (35-15), Bucks 111 (27-23)

Jason Kidd has had his team rolling as they entered this game winners of their last five. The Bucks head coach did not want James Harden (33 points, 5 assists) to be the one to end the streak as he threw everything at the shooting guard. From double-teams at halfcourt to different defenders all night, Kidd tried his best to throw Harden off. It didn’t change much for the MVP candidate as he went off for 33 points and made his way to the free throw line (per usual). Furthermore, due to Milwaukee’s incessant and early pressure, the Rockets moved the ball quickly and often, leading to 32 assists and 15 3-pointers. Josh Smith (14 points, 10 rebounds, 8 assists, 5-8 from the field) didn’t have his highest scoring performance, but he certainly had one of his most in-control and balanced games since becoming a Houston Rocket. He gave them exactly what they need from him off the bench. For the Bucks, seven guys scored in double digits as Giannis Antetokounmpo (27 points, 15 rebounds) led the way. Brandon Knight (12 points, 11 assists, 5 steals) also picked up a double-double. These young Bucks are young and long, causing havoc on many possessions. However, they are still learning and trying to understand how to play together. The veteran Rockets were too much for them Friday night.

Timberwolves 90 (10-40), Grizzlies 89 (37-13)

The Grizzlies seemed set to win their ninth straight game and inch closer to the Warriors in the standings as they were facing one of the worst teams in the League. However, Ricky Rubio (17 points, 5 assists, 5 rebounds, 3 steals) was the force behind Minnesota stunning Memphis at the Target Center in Minneapolis. The Wolves point guard didn’t look like he was having any ankle problems in the fourth quarter, scoring eight points in the final 1:47 to help turn a seven-point deficit into a one-point victory. Andrew Wiggins (18 points, 6 rebounds) also made some big shots down the stretch. As great as Mike Conley (15 points, 7 assists) and Zach Randolph (6 points, 10 rebounds, 5 turnovers) have been all season long, they did not look good in the final minute of a game they let slip away. In the final 1:09 when Minnesota went on a 7-0 run to close out the game, the Grizzlies had three possessions. These consisted of a Conley missed jumper followed by Randolph losing the ball and Conley throwing the ball away with his team only down one with 5.9 seconds to go. Because of it, Memphis missed a great opportunity to make up some ground on Golden State, who lost to Atlanta on the night.

 Pelicans 116 (27-23), Thunder 113 (25-25)

This game had huge implications for two teams fighting for their playoffs lives on the outside looking in. They both have huge superstars who want a crack at one of the top team’s in the West. However, one superstar made a statement in a monumental way. Anthony Davis (41 points, 10 rebounds, 2 blocks) knocked down his first career-buzzer beater to take down the Thunder and create a little more breathing room between these two teams. This was Davis’ first made 3-point field goal of the entire season. Before he even hit that shot, though, the Brow was having himself a monster night. Davis is the only player with at least 40 points, 10 rebounds and a game-winning buzzer beater the past 10 seasons. Another Pelican with a huge statline had to be Tyreke Evans (22 points, 16 assists, 10 rebounds), who was the sole distributor for New Orleans. If it wasn’t for Evans getting Davis the ball, the Pelicans would have been destroyed by Russell Westbrook’s (career-high 48 points, 11 assists, 9 rebounds) fury. This kid is ridiculous. He became the fourth player in NBA history with at least 45 points, five rebounds and five assists in consecutive games. With Kevin Durant (27 points, 9-26 from the field) struggling from the field, Westbrook did everything in his power to will his team to a victory. His attempt fell short due to a 21-year-old phenom making one of the biggest shots of the year. Watch out, Phoenix, the Brow is coming for you.

Suns 100 (29-23), Jazz 93 (17-33)

With the Pelicans and Thunder looming right behind them, the Suns had to find a way to snap out of their three-game losing streak. They did just that due to an unexpected hero in Marcus Morris (career-high 34 points, career-high 12 rebounds, 2 steals). He caught fire from deep early on, which set up the rest of his game and led to his best performance as a pro. He received help from his guards in Eric Bledsoe (15 points, 6 assists, 4 steals) and Isaiah Thomas (10 points, 4 assists) as the Suns really took control of the game in the fourth. After a back-and-forth battle, the Jazz were within reaching distance to pull off the upset on the road. Gordon Hayward (24 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists) and Derrick Favors (20 points, 5 rebounds, 3 steals) had carried their team all night long. However, Utah went through a scoring drought as they could only make three field goals in the first seven minutes of the final quarter. By that point, the deficit had swelled to double digits and the Suns were on their way to picking up their 29th victory of the season.

Spurs 98 (32-18), Heat 85 (21-29)

In the first matchup between these two teams since the 2014 NBA Finals, there was hardly a resemblance of any sort of rivalry or even competition as the Spurs breezed to an easy double-digit win. While the Spurs have the same system and gameplan, the Heat are still trying to figure out how to live without LeBron James. Yes, it is almost All-Star Break; however, when you lose the best player in the world, it’s going to take time to find a new rhythm. San Antonio built up a 20-point second half lead behind Kawhi Leonard (24 points, 3 steals), Tony Parker (21 points, 9-12 from the field) and a balanced offense. Parker reached the 20-point plateau for the first time since returning from injury. When his midrange game is going, he becomes extremely difficult to defend. Tim Duncan (10 points, 12 rebounds) notched a double-double and got to watch the end of the game from the bench. The Heat, who were without Hassan Whiteside, were actually led by their big men. Luol Deng (17 points, 6 rebounds), Chris Bosh (14 points, 7 rebounds) and Chris Anderson (10 points, 5 rebounds) all reached double digits, but the guard play really struggled—other than Tyler Johnson (18 points, 7-10 from the field) late. He scored nine of his points in the final two minutes of the game when it didn’t matter. With the loss, the Heat are now ninth in the East and out of the playoffs.